This article is a part of the CitySparks series sponsored by Verisign
It’s a sad truth that every year, thousands of traditional artisans migrate to the city in search of daily-wage labour so that they can feed their families. With that migration, centuries-old knowledge that has been passed down to generations dies in the squalor of an urban slum. Technology too has provided cheaper, cookie-cutter substitutes that have further contributed to the decline of these arts. It was to combat this slow extinction and bring these dying arts back into the limelight that Sumiran Pandey, Shivani Dhar and Himanshu Khar founded the Gaatha project.
The three friends and batchmates from the prestigious National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, discovered their passion for handicrafts while doing academic research.
Gaatha was originally set up in November 2009 for researching and documenting Indian craft clusters and heritage that are experiencing rapid erosion. However, they soon understood from their interactions with artisans that research alone wouldn’t help. They needed restoration of pride and commercial opportunity in their ecosystem. And that’s why, in August 2013, Gaatha became Gaatha.com, an e-commerce portal.
The team is attempting to be the bridge through which the artisans can reach a global audience. Sumiran says, “Gaatha is becoming a resource which helps craft sell not as objects but as stories and ideologies. We are vying to make not just ‘sales’ but ‘dialogues’ between the craftsmen and their patrons, encouraging ‘co-creation’ possibilities and a collective growth.” They are especially committed to keeping cultural heritage and authenticity of the artistic processes intact.
Gaatha: The stories online
Based out of Ahmedabad, Gaatha.com receives around 450-600 orders per month on an average. From quirky diaries to beautifully carved wooden combs, fashion and home décor items like ceramic jewellery, silk stoles and Madhubani paintings, Gaatha.com is a treasure trove of Indian handicrafts from Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Kashmir. The techniques used by artisans range from Batik printing, quilting, papier-mache work, metal casting and punch work among others. Materials used include wood, leather, fibre, bamboo, grass, and even urban waste.
The Gaatha team never considered anything but a .com domain name for their website since their aim is to educate art connoisseurs the world over, and the .com domain name is the easiest to recall and a popular top level domain (TLD) name. Once the gaatha.com was registered, in-house developers worked on the website design, which masterfully focuses on the art, the products and the artisans.
The blog on Gaatha.com serves as a starting point for many handicraft lovers, who love reading up on various handicrafts and their history and then make purchases from the website. Sumiran says, “Many sites selling similar products just copy and paste generic content from the Internet on their sites. In contrast, our website features content that is the result of years of painstaking research.”
Orders placed on the site are fulfilled within five days anywhere in India and in a week’s time to countries like USA and Singapore. While most of their customers are in India, orders from abroad are steadily climbing. Gaatha also has an active presence on social media, especially their Facebook page, which is very popular.
The partnership with artisans
The young founders are very often on the road, frequently meeting artisans and finding new crafts that can be added to the site. More than 150 master craftsmen contribute to 50 product categories on Gaatha. While there are websites that provide a platform for artisans to sell their products, Gaatha goes one step further by photographing every product and taking care of all the marketing as well. Each and every item, be it beautifully woven sarees or handcrafted brass art, is lovingly showcased on Gaatha.com. In some cases, they are closely involved in the production of the handicrafts.
Gaatha.com is creating new connections between artists and patrons through their stories and showcases. People are finally more willing now than ever before to hear and pay heed to tales of craft.
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